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FTAs hold key to driving growth in CEE region

Chen Jia
Updated: Sep 7,2018 8:54 AM     China Daily

Free trade agreements are needed between China and countries from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) in order to provide a new driving force for regional economic growth, said officials and scholars.

The trade relationship between China and CEE has seen a remarkable improvement, despite global trade frictions and the recent turbulence in financial markets. “That is proof that trade ties have great potential to develop,” Xie Yuan, vice-president of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC), said on Sept 6.

Xie was speaking at a panel discussion of the 2018 Economic Forum in Krynica, Poland. The forum, the largest such annual event in Central and Eastern Europe, was launched 28 years ago.

This year, more than 4,000 guests from over 60 countries in Europe, Asia and the Americas are taking part in the forum.

China sees the mechanism of “16+1 cooperation” between China and 16 Central and Eastern European countries as an important gateway to incorporate the Belt and Road Initiative into the European economy, said Xie.

“China and the European Union share similar ideas and attitudes toward some important issues, including globalization, free trade and opposition to trade protectionism.”

“We expect to expand cooperation with all European countries,” he added

It was the fifth year that Chinese delegates joined the forum. This year, 24 officials from Sichuan, Fujian and Henan provinces and the Inner Mongolia autonomous region delivered speeches at the forum, introducing regional economic development and projects related to the Belt and Road Initiative to seek further cooperation opportunities with Europe.

Deepening cooperation between China and CEE countries will not only help to make the most of economic growth opportunities, but also promote China-EU cooperation, according to many of the forum participants.

Hrant Bagratyan, a professor at the Russian-Armenian University in Yerevan, Armenia, said free trade agreements are needed between China and the Central and Eastern European countries in order to boost the regional economy amid growing threat of protectionism.

“We need to sit down and talk about specific conditions and measures to implement cooperation under China’s BRI. It is a great initiative that countries from Central and Eastern Europe have shown their willingness to proactively participate in the cooperation,” he said.

European countries now need to join efforts in addressing common challenges, especially when US trade restrictions have recently “added new fuel to the fire”, said Sergey Afontsev, director of the Economic Theory Department of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Given these problems, new cooperation strategies are to be developed for the BRI to help achieve development and security priorities in all participating economies, said Afontsev, who said that the BRI could work as a powerful driver for trade and investment in the region.

Trade between China and the 16 CEE countries has grown by an annual average of 6.5 percent since 2011. The total trade volume was $68 billion last year, which accounted for 11 percent of China-Europe trade. The proportion was 9.3 percent in 2011, according to data from the CPAFFC.

China-Europe freight trains, seen as one of the important ties to link economies in the two continents under the BRI, have also strengthened trade links. By the end of June, the cumulative number of trips of China-Europe freight trains had exceeded 9,000, reaching 42 cities in 14 European countries.